May 11, 2018 / 6:37 PM / 9 days ago

Smugglers prey on migrants seeking better life in Chile: experts

BOGOTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Thousands of migrants from Haiti and the Dominican Republic seeking a better life in more prosperous Chile are at high risk of labor exploitation and trafficking as migration to the South American nation soars, experts say.

At least 100,000 migrants arrived in Chile last year from Haiti, the poorest nation in the Americas, according to police figures - more than double the number in 2016.

The risks were put in the spotlight last month when Chilean authorities charged five people with smuggling dozens of Haitians into the country with false promises of jobs and work visas.

Paola Zarate, a state prosecutor in Chile’s capital Santiago dealing with the case, said each Haitian migrant paid up to $3,000. When they arrived, most were abandoned without the jobs and accommodation they had been promised.

“The fact that they are foreign makes them vulnerable to being victims of other crimes,” Zarate told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, saying Haitian migrants were at heightened risk of being trafficked into forced labor or sex work.

Haitian Wadner Maignan works for the Jesuit Service for Migrants, which provides support and legal advice to migrants in Santiago.

He says Haitian men often end up working on construction sites and in factories where they are victims of labor exploitation and abuse.

“They tell me: I don’t get a break at work, they treat me badly, they don’t pay us well - this is very common,” said the 29-year-old, who arrived in Chile three years ago.

Last month Chile tightened its rules on migration for Haitians and other nationals, citing a need to stem rising illegal immigration.

In recent years, Chile has also become a leading destination for migrants from the Dominican Republic, a trend apparent since 2013 said prosecutor Zarate, who is currently investigating a case of two women from the Dominican trafficked into sex work.

Zarate said traffickers made false promises of domestic or retail work to women who were forced into prostitution in the capital’s bars and brothels after arriving to find the jobs did not exist and their passports seized.

“It’s quite a common situation in Santiago ... women are offered work in a certain way, however it’s to use these women for sexual services,” she said.

There have been few convictions for sex trafficking and forced labor involving migrants because most victims do not report it, she said.

“Unfortunately, people often don’t feel they are victims, for them it’s a form of work,” Zarate said.

“Getting convictions depends also on a victims’ commitment to continue with an investigation to get results.”

Reporting by Anastasia Moloney @anastasiabogota, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org

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